Ark Arkin – John Rotchell


Perhaps your taste is for carols universally known as ‘The First Nowell’ with its Bible story told in verse, the dancing tilt of the 14th century German carol ‘Good Christian Men Rejoice’, the children’s favourite ‘Away in a Manger’, the peaceful flow of ‘Silent Night’ and ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ or the heart stirring crescendo chorus of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’. For many people however it is the sound of their local carols which gives them that special Christmas feeling.

Amongst the hill villages to the north west of Sheffield there is a strong tradition of the singing of local carols. Having been brought up in the village of Wadsley and marrying a lass born and bred in Worrall makes the playing and singing of local carols a part of our cultural heritage. My local sing was at ‘The Blue Ball’ in Worrall with the occasional venture to ‘The Royal’ at Dungworth where in the early 1970’s they had an electronic organ.

Traditionally, the words and music have been passed down from father to son. The singing of which being a male preserve commencing on the sixth Sunday before Christmas to Boxing Day, that being the day upon which the ladies of the village were allowed in to the pubs to join the singing whilst the men stayed at home to do the Christmas washing up.

Things have changed, arguably increasing the popularity of ‘the carols’. In the 1960’s, housing developments in these villages created many ‘comers-in’, many taking enthusiastically to the villages’ tradition of carol singing, causing books of words and music to be printed so that the ‘comers-in’ may partake in the tradition. Movement of labour meant that many villagers left, but the motor cars which took them to other parts also provides the means to bring them back each Sunday of the Christmas period.

The carols started to be recorded onto vinyl, then tape and now CD. Grenoside, Bolsterstone and Worrall Male Voice Choirs, Loxley, Stannington and Outibridge Brass Bands together with Bradfield Choral Society all feature local carols in their recordings. In the 1970’s, the creation of local radio provided further means for bringing carols to a larger audience.

Many of these carols have strong Methodist connotations with Mendelsonian strains. Originally written for string instrument accompaniments with symphonies between each verse, to provide drinking time!

Traditionally each sing will commence with the carol ‘Hark Hark What News’ sung to the tune Oughtibridge/Swaine Ark, later in the proceedings to be sung to Tyre Mill (named after a mill at Sammy Foxes). It is for this reason that many locals will use the expression going ‘Ark Arking’ as meaning they are going singing the local carols. Many tunes are named after local places: Fern Bank, Malin Bridge, Spout Cottage, Stannington, Bradfield, Back Lane.

Going to a sing for the first time is like your first attendance at the choir. It is difficult to join in as everyone knows the words and tunes. However if you choose to go then do know the words of ‘While Shepherds Watched’ as it will be performed a number of times during the sing. The tunes do not necessarily reflect the mood of the words as this carol will be sung to the rousing tunes of Lingham, Diadem, Cransbrook, Liverpool, Old Foster and Pentonville or to the gentle strains of Crimond, Lloyd, Deep Harmony, Belmont and Fern Bank, or to those tunes with a bell like chorus Hail Chime On, Sweet Bells and Sweet Chiming Christmas Bells which Ray has arranged for us for this Christmas to the Salvationist words of ‘The Bells Ring Out at Christmas Time’.

Within our repertoire we also have ‘Hail Smiling Morn’ and ‘Egypt’ to ‘Christians Awake Unclose Your Eyes’. So as members of NMMVC we can as singers make bold as in the days of old to celebrate Christmas and bring you good cheer.